With technology evolving as quickly as it does, it can be so difficult to predict which new trends will really catch on, and which are destined to fizzle out. Smartphones had already introduced us to the power of voice-controlled digital assistants, through services like Siri, Google Now, and Cortana, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that this tech would remain a mobile-focused development.
But then Amazon introduced its Echo smart appliance, and suddenly we were all captivated by the idea of taking that voice-powered goodness and giving it a permanent fixture in our homes. It didn’t take long before other companies followed with their own versions of the same idea (and for Amazon itself to expand its product lineup with additional variations on the theme), and last fall Google entered the fray with Google Home.
Is Google Home more than just an Android smartphone hooked up to a speaker? Can its capabilities really bring something new and worthwhile to your home? Let’s a take a look at just what this smart speaker can do.
The package contains:
- Google Home
- Power adapter
- Quick-start cards
Clean, functional, and beautiful, Google Home looks as good as it works
If you’re already familiar with the original Amazon Echo, the first thing that’s likely to strike you about Google Home is its comparatively compact size. The Home hardware forms a bit of a tapered cylinder, with its speakers at the bottom protected by an attractive cloth grille, while the top half of the cylinder appears quite featureless, terminating with a slightly sloped surface. But plug Google Home in and that blank expanse quickly springs to life, as the sloped top becomes illuminated by a ring of multi-colored LEDs embedded within.
The top surface doesn’t just dance with light to animate your interactions with Home’s voice assistant, and also conceals a capacitive touchpad. Tapping that interface can quickly pause music playback, and tracing a circle acts like volume knob (with helpful LED feedback) – it’s all quite intuitive. On the back you’ll find a mute button for when you don’t want Home listening in on your conversations.
The speaker grille itself pops off quite easily, held on only by magnets, revealing the speaker array that pumps out both music and Google Home’s spoken responses to your commands and questions. There’s a hidden micro USB port in there for you hacker types, but most users will just be interested in the alternative grille colors. Both metal and extra fabric options are available, priced between $20 and $40.
Google Home has a ton going for it. As a speaker, it’s nice and loud, and not only can its music easily stretch across rooms, but its capable microphones support voice input even when it’s far out of reach. The power of the Google Assistant also gives it some impressive voice-driven tools, and using it really can feel like you have your personal assistant on-call in your office.
Still, there are some important limitations. The idea of fluid, conversational-tone interactions is still in its infancy, and much like playing an old text-based computer game, getting the most out of Google Home can sometimes require its users to remember specific voice commands. That’s something that can easily improve, though, and there’s already an impressive level of support: Home knows that “crank it” means “turn the volume up.”
If you’ve got a connected home, with smart lights and Chromecasts on every TV, you’re in a good place to get a lot of use out of Google Home. And even if you don’t, a smart-home hub like this can be just the impetus you need to get started with some upgrades.
The price is also right, with Google Home selling for just about $130, or $50 less than the Amazon Echo. Then again, the Echo Dot is a much more affordable option than either. Really, the only thing that could make Home better in the hardware department were if it had an HDMI port so it could double as a Chromecast itself – but we’re still very happy with the functionality that is present.
Google Home and the Google Assistant make for a great pair, and if you’re already a big fan of voice assistants on your phone, using Home will feel like second nature. If you’re fine with the mobile nature of that interaction, you’d be fine to stick with just using Google’s services on your handset. But give Home a try, and see how it’s an easy way to make your home feel a lot more connected, and you may be wondering what you ever did without it.
- Unobtrusive, stylish design
- Audio output ranges from just a whisper to pleasingly loud
- Long-range microphone works wonderfully
- Tight integration with Google accounts and associated services
- Affordably priced
- iOS compatibility in addition to Android
- Feature discovery can be less than intuitive
- Absence of certain features (like Play Music library support) is confusing
- Additional investment needed to take advantage of smart-home control